Among the cacophony of aboriginal voices demanding to be heard in this country, there seems to be at least two dominant and recurring themes.
First, if you are going to pursue an activity that directly affects aboriginal interests, then you need to engage in meaningful consultations with those communities. Second, if you want to fix the deplorable living conditions found on many native reserves, then you need to provide adequate funding.
This funding must be comparable to what exists for non-aboriginal communities, and it must be provided with “no strings attached.”
For many Canadians, these demands may seem odd and unsettling. However, there are several good reasons why governments and societal actors should take them seriously.
It’s no secret that many aboriginal communities across Canada are underserviced and underfunded.
Media reports over the last several years have highlighted the lack of adequate funding for on-reserve education, clean water, housing, and health services, among other things.
Earlier this year, a story surfaced about a house fire on a reserve in northern Saskatchewan. Commentators noted how a lack of financial support from the federal government for proper training and equipment had directly contributed to the death of two young boys. As a result of that tragedy, First Nations’ leaders have called for the federal government to increase funding to on-reserve communities for proper fire protection services.
In many ways, these demands make sense. Aboriginal governments frequently lack the fiscal tools to raise sufficient revenue to pay for these services, and so federal and provincial money is crucial to building healthy and safe aboriginal communities.
The Nisga’a in B.C. have long been trailblazers and pioneers. During the 1970s, it was their activism on the land and in the courts that led to the legal recognition of aboriginal title in Canada. In 1998, they were the first aboriginal group in B.C. to complete a comprehensive land claims agreement.
Last week, they again made history by creating the first individually-held fee simple interests on aboriginal lands. As a result, the Nisga’a citizens who receive these fee simple interests will have the same type of property rights that Canadians have off-reserve. That means they can sell or lease their land or bequeath it in a will to whomever they wish. They can also use their land to secure a loan or mortgage to build a house or start a business, thus generating much needed economic development and capital for their communities.
Some critics argue that fee simple property rights should be opposed because it could lead to the erosion of a community’s land base. But the Nisga’a initiative has several safeguards built into it.
Aboriginal people are one of the most impoverished demographic groups in Canada, and over the last several years, there has been a vigorous debate on how to address this seemingly unending cycle of poverty.
Recently, a consensus has emerged that the solution to the “aboriginal problem” is not to be found in market-based solutions, such as private property reform. Instead, it’s argued that aboriginal communities must more actively assert their treaty and self-government rights by using conventional and protest-style political action to force Canada to treat them fairly. Indeed, these were some of the key messages that came out of the Idle No More movement that dominated the headlines last year.
To some extent, these experts are right. Aboriginal groups must be more assertive in protecting their rights and interests. As well, market forces have sometimes wreaked havoc on aboriginal communities in Canada and the United States, leaving behind an awful legacy of poverty and political disengagement.
The City of Edmonton signs a new agreement to improve aboriginal participation in civic issues. Is it a sign of progress in aboriginal engagement? LISPOP Associate Dr. Christopher Alcantara appears to give his thoughts on the matter. You can watch the video by clicking here.
Abstract: Over the past three decades, Inuit economic development corporations (IEDCs) have played an important role in preparing the Inuit regions of Nunavik in northern Québec and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories for self-government. In addition to building vital capacity through the provision of services, programs and economic opportunities, IEDCs have also represented their respective regions in self-government negotiations with other levels of government. This corporate-led governance approach, which we call Inuit corporate governance, provides Aboriginal groups such as the Inuit with a de facto form of self-government and the opportunity to develop economic and political capacity in advance of adopting a more comprehensive and formal self-government arrangement. It also challenges existing assumptions about the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the liberal–capitalist order that underpins the Canadian state.
UPDATE: Apparently, our article has been shortlisted for the 2013 McMenemy Prize, given annually to the best paper published in English or French in the Canadian Journal of Political Science. The winner will be announced at the President’s Dinner at the annual meeting of the CPSA in Victoria, B.C.
Abstract: Over the past fifty years, Indigenous peoples in settler countries have mobilized to demand policy and institutional changes from their respective states. Although some scholars have employed multilevel governance (MLG) to make sense of these developments, none has examined systematically whether MLG accurately describes these phenomena. We address this lacuna by creating a more robust definition of MLG and applying it to a sample of Indigenous–settler interactions in Canada. Our findings suggest that MLG is an applicable concept for some, but not for all of the Indigenous–state interactions that are typically assumed to be instances of MLG. This conceptual clarification should help scholars from a variety of countries to use MLG more effectively to analyze the relationships between Indigenous peoples and their respective states.
Last month, the federal government announced that it had signed an historic devolution deal with the Northwest Territories government.
Under this agreement, the federal government will transfer its jurisdiction and administrative responsibilities over territorial lands and onshore resources to the territorial government. Decisions over land use and mining will now be in the hands of territorial officials and the territorial government — as well as the five Aboriginal groups that signed the agreement — will now receive a significant share of the natural resource revenues generated in the region.
In short, this agreement, should it be ratified, will radically transform the political and economic landscape of the territory by providing northerners with the tools to pursue economic development more efficiently and effectively.
Yet this agreement isn’t simply about improving the economic and political life of northerners; lost in some of the initial analysis is the symbolic importance of this agreement for Canada.
LISPOP Associate Christopher Alcantara examines the key concerns coming out of the Idle No More movement and how to go about amending or scrapping the Indian Act altogether in an effort to improve the lives of First Nations in Canada.
Canada-First Nations relationships are obviously the topic of the day. Besides the very serious substantive issues that are under discussion, I noticed one interesting trend in the public debate, that is, the struggle over whether Chief Spence’s diet constituted a genuine “hunger strike” or something else. In a lot of media coverage, journalists have been characterizing her protest as a “liquid only diet” or “liquid diet” or “forgoing solid foods”, rather than a hunger strike.
What’s at stake in this debate over how her protest is framed is fairly clear. According to media reports, Chief Spence has been subsisting on fish broth and herbal tea (one news story says she is taking vitamins as well), providing some of her opponents the opportunity to denigrate her commitment to her political and policy goals. I think the argument goes that a “genuine” hunger striker would take, at most, water. Questioning whether she is, in fact, engaged in a hunger strike, is not just a debate about semantics, but about the level of Spence’s sincerity and commitment to her policy goals.
I personally am inclined to see this as a genuine hunger strike, but that’s not the point here. I was more interested in whether any kind of patterns were detectable in how journalists framed her protests. Specifically, I wondered whether there was a change over time in the newspaper framing.
Below are the number of newspaper stories in the database Canadian Newsstand from December 13th, 2012 to January 14th, 2013 that responded to the search string “Theresa Spence”. This database includes both the Globe and Mail, the National Post, most of the metro urban dailies, a lot of local community newspapers, but, importantly, none of the Sun chain of newspapers.
Not surprisingly, coverage has been building gradually since Chief Spence began her protest, culminating in the last week or so with the publication of the audit of her band’s finances, more protests from the Idle No More network and the meeting between First Nations leaders and the Prime Minister.
Then, I combed through the articles looking for terms like “hunger” and “hunger strike” as well as terms like “liquid”, “liquids only” and “liquid diet”. I calculated the daily average frequencies of both sets of terms and plotted them against each other below.
So this plots the “average” number of occurrences of terms referring, more or less to a “hunger strike” versus terms referring to “liquid diets”, taking “liquid food” and forgoing “solid food” in Canadian newspaper stories that mention “Theresa Spence” over this time period. Clearly, references to Spence’s protest as a hunger strike have declined substantially, with frequencies after the publication of the audit much lower than prior to the audit.
The lines are smoothing lines; although the solid line suggests the decline started before the publication of the audit, I think that’s illusory. To me, there’s a clear break in the points before and after the publication of the audit. In terms of phrases that refer to a “liquid diet”, the smoothing line suggests a slow, monotonic increase in that sentiment.
It’s also important to remember: both of these trends occur in the context of a lot more coverage, period, post-audit (see the first figure). But while there was more newspaper stories that referenced “Theresa Spence” at least once after the audit, references to her going on a “hunger strike’ dropped off dramatically, while references to her only taking “liquid foods” continued a slight increase.
So, how to square all of this? I think two things are really important. First, it seems like the publication of the audit weakened Spence’s credibility, hence, the declining references to her on a “hunger strike” while references to her being on a “liquid diet” increased. But, perhaps more importantly, the sheer volume of newspaper coverage that appeared post-audit suggests that Spence was sidelined somewhat as events overtook her. Between January 7th and January 14th, Canadians witnessed protests by Idle No More, a meeting between First Nations leaders and the Prime Minister and some conflicts within the Assembly of First Nations. It seems like newspaper coverage during that time referenced Theresa Spence, began framing her protest equally as a “hunger strike” or as a “liquid diet”, and probably sidelined her, period.
Finally, it seems like this is an important lesson in how source credibility (as defined by journalists) is so crucial in structuring Canadian journalism.
I searched Canadian Newsstand for all newspaper articles with full-text that referenced “Theresa Spence” at least once. Then, I used the tm package to analyze the texts within. I looked for terms that referenced hunger, hunger strike or hunger striking and, essentially, averaged them over the number of stories that appeared each day. Then I did the same with terms like “liquid”, “liquid foods”, and “liquid diet”.
LISPOP Associate Christopher Alcantara discusses proposed law that would extend individual property rights to first nations living on reserves. Supporters say it’s a tool for economic prosperity. Critics say it’s an attack on sovereignty.
Over the past several weeks, indigenous peoples have mobilized effectively to demand that the Crown uphold its many treaty promises. Indigenous peoples are tired of the piecemeal approach undertaken by the Harper government, but also previous governments as well, both Liberal and Conservative.
Although there have been many well-meaning attempts over the years to honour the Crown’s nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, such as modern treaties, the residential school apology, and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, all of these actions have been mostly piecemeal measures, resulting in sometimes positive yet incredibly slow changes for native peoples in Canada.
Generally speaking, First Nations have four options when they choose to engage the Canadian state. They can negotiate with the Crown to secure their rights and interests, but often the negotiating costs are high, as I argue here in my forthcoming book, or they produce results that are mixed, as political theorist Glen Coulthard argues here, or political scientist Martin Papillon argues here.
Indigenous groups can also litigate against the Crown in Canadian courts, but such a strategy is a high risk/high reward venture since rarely do courts produce decisions that seek compromise between the two groups. In that sense, negotiations are preferable because they do have the potential to produce compromises that better satisfy both groups.
Aboriginal groups can also engage in what I call, Indigenous contentious collective action, by mobilizing Aboriginal elites and non-elites to undertake both conventional and unconventional tactics against the Canadian state. For the most part, at least on the aggregate, such strategies are not very good at producing results that favour the Indigenous groups. There are, however, some important exceptions.
Finally, Indigenous groups can simply assert their rights and self-government jurisdictions. Many groups and individuals have done the former, while very few groups have done the latter.
Recently, a group of First Nations in B.C. announced that they were unilaterally imposing a ban on all trophy bear hunting in their traditional territories. In justifying the decision, Chief Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation said that years of negotiating with the Crown had failed to produce any type of compromise between the First Nations, the provincial government, and the bear hunters. Instead, the bear hunting simply continued, unabated. Hence, several days ago, the First Nations announced they would be asserting their traditional self-government rights.
If negotiations fail, I think asserting self-government rights may be the next best option for Aboriginal groups to protect their interests, followed by litigation, and then Indigenous contentious collective action. But what factors determine the success of this strategy of asserting self-government jurisdiction? The literature is unclear, unfortunately. In my article on Indigenous contentious collective action, I provide some theoretical insights into why Indigenous contentious collective action emerges and what factors might produce favourable outcomes. However, these theoretical insights were derived from one case and have yet to be tested against other cases. Nonetheless, my research found that success is very much influenced by the ability of Aboriginal groups to frame their dispute in such a way that it taps into public support. As well, successful Aboriginal groups are those that generate and find allies, both within and outside of the government, who are sympathetic to the goals of the Aboriginal group and are wiling to work with them to achieve their interests.
At some point, I plan to continue my research on Indigenous contentious collective action. In the meantime, I will be watching this case with much interest!